History surrounds us in New Orleans. For people who use smartphone apps, there’s a new tool that helps reveal some of the details that might be just around the corner.
The app is called It Happened Here, and it was introduced this spring by the Washington, D.C.-based company Mobile Surroundings. The tool detects a user’s location and then shows a map of interesting nearby locations from the pages of history and pop culture alike.
“It’s a good tool to point out interesting places when they’re most relevant to you, which is when you’re wandering past them,” says Mobile Surroundings founder Ken Dodelin.
In New Orleans that could mean spotting the Magazine Street apartment once occupied by Lee Harvey Oswald, finding a parking lot that housed a World War II-era factory for Higgins boats or learning where actress Reese Witherspoon was born. The app is especially good at revealing tidbits that typically don’t get official markers or make it into guide books, but which can help animate the character and history of a place.
Dodelin, a journalism professor at Georgetown University, got the idea for the app after learning the history behind some otherwise obscure locales around Washington, D.C.
“I’d driven past this one parking garage for years and years and never thought anything of it, and then I learned it was where the Washington Post reporters would go at two in the morning to meet with the Deep Throat source in the Watergate case,” he says.
It Happened Here collects content for seven other American cities, which Dodelin says his company usually selects based on population size and tourism numbers.
“New Orleans didn’t jump to the top of the list on those criteria but it does have a lot of character and it has a lot of events to attract people we think would use an app like this,” he says.
For instance, people who passed Jesuit High School en route to Jazz Fest this spring might have learned that this was the school from which a young Louis Prima was expelled for cursing. Meanwhile, football fans in town for games this fall can find their way to the Isidore Newman School, alma mater of Super Bowl winners Peyton and Eli Manning.